Koto Kill is a musical project that combines industrial and electronic rock influences, is headed up by mastermind Gabriel Ralls and features a multitude of guest vocalists including Emily Magpie and Dolly Daggerz. Koto Kill have just released their mini LP Fight Us All and we had a chat with Ralls to hear all about how the release came together and what each guest brought to it, how Koto Kill started, the potential of live shows, musical influences, greatest gigs and who he’d really like to fight.
How did Koto Kill start?
I was on the rebound from my last band; I think that’s what many people do when they split up, right? Go solo for a while and see as many people as possible, even if they’re in other relationships? Now, if we interchange “people” with ‘musicians’ and “relationships” for ‘bands’ one can pretty much see what happened here, but that’s pretty much it.
Who are your biggest influences as a musician?
Trent Reznor, Björk, The Prodigy, Radiohead… there’s a bit 90s theme here. All of whom have at least flirted with electronics and rock music in their own sound.
Your new mini LP Fight Us All is out now, how did the recording of the album go?
The album was written and recorded over two years. Partly because there was so many dramatic changes happening (or in some cases, not happening) in my life, but also because, when working with other musicians, I often had to wait for many of them to become available and set up a recording date. It’s not the same as being in a band where you see each other all the time; I needed to be patient. I think the plus side was that I had plenty of time to fine-tune the songs with a fresh ear each time I revisited them, but it also meant each song was pretty inconsistent to the last.
Did you always intend for it to be a mini LP as opposed to a full length album?
It was meant to be a full length album. I had written some 40 demos, of which about 12 I felt were good enough to make it to a release. However, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the right singers and musicians who were able to collaborate on this project and have the time to do so. I didn’t want to release an EP because I despise EPs… so I made the decision to release something, even if it meant being in the form of a mini-album, as a compromise. I’m still incredibly happy with the end result, though.
Fight Us All features the vocal talents of Emily Magpie, Beatrice Bonnano, Judith Haustein, B3NDU, Anelise Kunz and Dolly Daggerz. How did you hook up with all these different singers on the album?
They’ve all come from such a wide variety of places… Emily was introduced to me by a mutual friend who wanted us to work together, and so we did – and it was awesome (her vocals still gives me goosebumps)! Beatrice I saw fronting an amazing band called Dronningen and was also introduced to me. I didn’t really know her so well but she was really keen to work with me, I think mostly because of our shared love for Marilyn Manson. B3NDU I, to this day, have never actually met. I was auditioning for a rapper in order to set myself a challenge and she sent me this awesome demo to my beats – I was so blown away I hired her for the gig. Judith is actually a colleague of mine back from University. We really respect each others’ work and have been collaborating with each other on occasion for the best part of a decade now; including some synth I’ve made for her forthcoming album, The Flood. Anelise is actually the singer of my former band, Plastique (now of Yur Mum). We actually met some 13 years ago now, so I’m glad we’re still talking – one of my favourite singers of all time. Dolly also responded to an audition request, except we recorded in person. We’ve since collaborated on music videos for her band Tokyo Taboo and you should totally check them out.
Did you always plan to have only female vocalists on the album or did it just turn out that way?
It was always planned. I was discussing this as an album concept with (one of my collaborators), Daniel Birch, long before Koto Kill formed. I often felt frustrated that I was playing in a female-fronted bands (and alongside many others) and we were not always being taken so seriously – especially by promotors – so I wanted to build a platform where they all sing my tracks and really show a new side to them. I love male vocalists too but this idea was right for the project.
What did each of the vocalists bring to their specific songs?
The flexibility of not being in a band meant I was free to try out new ideas and not be limited to genre… but it also meant I was out of my comfort zone when writing some lyrics and vocals (seriously, I struggle to rhyme, let alone rap). I eventually decided it would be better to let each vocalist bring their own ideas to the table and see what she could contribute. Aside from Vagabonds and Riot, each of the vocalists came up with their own top line ideas and lyrics, essentially becoming co-songwriters with me. It’s meant the songs have often gone in unexpected directions, but it’s also given each track a very unique identity.
Fight Us All has a brilliant dynamic of furious energy and calmer passages especially on a track like War Zone. Was that mixture what you wanted to come across with Koto Kill?
For sure, I’m all about dynamics. I have a really poor attention-span, so I need things to shake up before I become complacent. It’s all about dynamic, layers, detail and variation to compensate for my lack of actual musical ability… True, this also meant that the ending of Fire Down was too intense for some – but fuck those guys.
Who else did you work with on the album?
Daniel Birch performed some live drums and helped me with some melodies on a couple of tracks; John Strine and Anelise Kunz on Bass; Akos Gado, Jo Volcy and Mo Stellato each performed guitars on two tracks. I also hired Tolga Cokdeger and Ricky Romain to play Turkish Saz and Sitar respectively on Fire Down. Did I forget anyone? If I did, please don’t tell them.
What has the reaction to the album been like so far?
Actually, now that you mention it, I don’t think anyone I know has actually called to tell me their thoughts on the album. Suffice to say they won’t be getting Christmas card from me this year.
Critics are, of course, torn between calling it a masterpiece or being a confused 90s nostalgia album with no real identity of its own. Funnily enough, they’re probably both right.
Does the title of the album have a specific meaning to it?
It’s a line taken from the final track, Vagabonds. The track itself is about the political polarisation of the UK post-Brexit vote. People have become so tribal, defensive and aggressive; each are willing to fight for what they believe in and fight those who do not. I liked the fact that each singer on the album has her own story to tell, her own battle – so it seemed fairly appropriate. It’s also not below me to admit I also thought it would make a badass sounding title.
Who would you most like to fight at the moment and why?
Theresa May and the Tories… I don’t think I need to explain the reasons why.
Have you got any live dates planned at the moment?
Sadly not. Koto Kill has always been more of a project rather than a band, and I think it’s probably going to be a logistical nightmare to pull off as a live show (not to mention expensive), but it’s something I’d really love to do in future.
Would any potential live dates feature any of the guest vocalists?
Oh totally. If I had my own way, I’d have all the vocalists on their respective songs… we’ll just have to wait and see if we get to achieve this.
What was the first gig you ever went to and what effect did it have on you?
The first proper gig I ever went to was Silverchair on their Neon Ballroom tour. The first effect it had on me was bruised ribs (because no one told me about moshing). I then realised I was able to to connect with the music, the band, and the people around me. It started an addition of going to see bands, which I still do today, of course.
What has been the great gig you have ever seen and why?
That’s a brutal question. Dresden Dolls’s shows at both the Astoria and the Roundhouse (2006) most likely… St Vincent (also at the Roundhouse, 2014), Radiohead at Glastonbury 2003, Muse in Reading 2002, Prince in 2007, NIN and Deftones’ performances at that this year’s Meltdown were exceptional too. Sorry, there’s just too many to choose from.
What was the first album you ever bought and what effect did it have on you becoming a musician?
Michael Jackson’s Bad was the first album I bought. I don’t think it’s possibly to listen to that album and not have a long-lasting effect? It made me love pop music, production, dance and videos… and set the bar way too high for any of us to ever achieve.
What album has had the biggest effect on your life and why?
Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals… when I was introduced to Manson I was a teen living in Somerset so I really wanted to have some kind of statement. Mechanical Animals really struck a chord to me as it combined electronic and rock music together and led the way for me to discover so many other bands and, ultimately get into songwriting and music production. I think it’s an under-appreciated masterpiece and it literally changed the course of my life.
What is next for Koto Kill for the rest of the year and your plans for 2019?
It’s now December, so I don’t think there’s much left for this year, but 2019 I’m going to write some new music… there’s been a lot I’ve learned in the past couple of years, so it’s definitely time to start a new project afresh. What that is yet, I cannot tell you yet, but I’m sure I won’t shut up about it when the time comes.
What have been your favourite albums released in 2018?
The Prodigy – No Tourists
Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People
Carpenter Brut – Leather Teeth
A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Yur Mum – Road Rage (I mixed this, but I may be slightly biased, but I genuinely believe they put together a great album)